Sermon for Congregational Approval on December 14, 2014
AUDIO – MAN’S CHIEF END – Matthew 28:16-20
Pastor Dan – TRANSCRIPTION
“Thank you John, I agree with just about everything that you said except that the search committee has done an excellent job… the verdict’s still out on that right? (laughter) The next half an hour will tell.
I appreciate your prayer; as I look out I assume everybody is just a little bit nervous. If you’re visiting with us here this morning, first of all WELCOME, it would be natural for you to feel a little nervous coming to a new church; and as you’ve heard the circumstances explained you can imagine why I might be a little bit nervous (laughter), and I’ve got a few family members who’ve traveled here as well to increase the pressure (laughter); they wanted to know that if the church didn’t call me to Ohio, they wanted to hear the sermon that led to me not getting the job (LOUD LAUGHTER).
The search committee is of course nervous because they’ve done all this work and are of course putting their neck out on the line this morning and of course they don’t want me to blow it; and you don’t want me to either so thank you for your prayer… it’s fitting.
Well the other day I was in my office and received a call on my cell phone. I answered the phone and it was Lenore Nelson. Lenore Nelson is an 88 year old shut in from our church. “Shut in”, if you’re not familiar with the term, she’s a member at our church and would be there if she could but her health is fading and so she’s just unable to be there.
I said, “Well hi Lenore how are you?” and she said, “I am good”. And I haven’t gotten many calls from Lenore so I was a little taken off by it, and she said, “Well truthfully pastor the reason I’m calling is because you haven’t visited me in awhile.”
I said, “Well, that’s right Lenore and I always enjoy our visits.. I said, How about tomorrow, would that work out for you at 10:30” and she said, “Yeah, that would be just fine”.
So the next day I went over to her house, and we were having a fine conversation and it was getting close time to wrap it up and pray for her and be on my way, but the whole time I was waiting for this moment because I just sensed that there was something she wanted to talk to me about; because she’d taken the time to call me and seek my company.
And so I wasn’t surprised when she got on the edge of her chair in her failing health and said, “Pastor… ” …
… now I don’t know what you’re expecting her to say at this moment… but I know what I was expecting her to say. I’ve had opportunities to be in people’s lives as their health was fading and they were thinking about matters of life and death.
I was expecting a conversation along those lines; I’ve had people who wanted to confess something and get that off their chest before a time such as this. I’ve had people say, “Ya know, (as they passed away) I’ve got this money I want to give to the church… is there a good ministry pastor you would recommend”… I mean my mind set was all in there.
And she says, “Pastor… , she said, “you’ve gained some weight ” (loud laughter)…. you gained some weight since you’ve been here” … and she’s right, I love food (laughter continues). The search committee doesn’t know it, but when I pulled into town a month ago they had me at Chick-fil-A… I mean it was a done deal by then, this was where the Lord was calling me (laughter).
So I was visibly thrown off, but we kinda recovered, and I prayed for her and I was on my way home just sort of laughing just about her honesty… I guess (laughter).
I’m glad to report Lenore is still with us and we’ve made arrangements for me to go back there in January and serve her communion… so hopefully those won’t be her last words to me.
But just a year before that I had the opportunity… the privilege if you will to hear the last words from her husband. She had called me up and said, “Orville’s health is fading and they think that tonight will be his last night; could you come by the house?”
And I did and he spoke to me privately and what he said is private… some of you know that feeling, that privilege of being there for someone`and hearing their last words and you just sort of assume that they have some significance and meaning to them don’t you.. because after all, they are choosing to speak these words as their last.
And today we’re going to be looking at a passage together, that if you’ve been around the church for some time is familiar to many people.
But something that’s often forgotten, is that the passage we’re going to be looking at, these words of Jesus are are some of the last words that He ever shared. And to me, that means they’re significant and important–not that all of His words aren’t … but of great importance.
I think that because it was the LAST thing that was on Jesus’ mind… it ought to be the FIRST thing that’s on our mind when we make decisions as a church. Because it was the last thing on Jesus’ mind, it ought to be the first thing that’s on our mind when we make decisions as a church.
So I want to invite those of you with a Bible to turn to Matthew 28; if you don’t that’s alright, we’ll have the words on the screen as well. The Book of Matthew 28:16-20.
The Great Commission
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””
Well whether you’ve heard this passage several times before or whether you’re hearing it for the very first time, my guess is that there are certain observations all of us in this room can make when we hear this passage.
We get the idea that Jesus is speaking to a group of people whom he calls here “the disciples“… that’s not a term that we use often in our culture today, but many of us understand that a disciple is someone who follows somebody else, someone who looks up to someone, who models their life after someone… so we can grasp that.
There’s Jesus speaking to these 11 disciples–we can even infer from just reading the passage the first time that Jesus anticipates a geographical separation or distance between Him and these eleven… and He’s asking them to multiply.
He says, ~”There’s 11 of you and I want you to go and MAKE disciples of all other nations’ … ‘so what I have taught you’… and by the way what Jesus has taught the disciples is that God loves them deeply, wants to have a relationship with them, and that the means in which God has accomplished that relationship is by dying on the Cross for their sins… and Jesus Christ is the only way.”
And this is the message of Christ, and He’s shared that with His disciples and he is now basically saying, “I want you to go and multiply that reality; through your labor and through your efforts I want you to produce other people who follow Jesus Christ, and a personal relationship with Him in all of the nations–to go and make disciples.“
And by the way… you and I are here today because these eleven were obedient; we wouldn’t be if they weren’t.
And if you are here today and consider yourself to be a Christ-follower, then this command that Jesus places on the 11 disciples is placed on you and I as well.
And I think these words of Jesus of great significance and importance, because as I said from the outset, it’s my understanding that these are some of HIS LAST WORDS… that in his last days here on earth this was his utmost priority to communicate this message.
In fact, the Scripture tells us in verse 17,
“When they saw him they worshiped him but some doubted”.
Now why did some doubt? …they knew who Jesus was. They doubted it because this is a post-resurrection appearance. Jesus has already been crucified, he’s been buried and he’s been raised from the dead as the Scripture tells us, and now some of the disciples are having a hard time believing that that’s actually who he is.
But once we embrace the reality that it’s a post-resurrection appearance we realize that Jesus’ window here on earth after resurrecting and before sending him to heaven was quite narrow.
So what he had to say in that window was of great significance and importance… that if you think that maybe I’m making too much of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life here, we understand that three other men also wrote about Jesus as well and one of them is Luke.
And Luke wrote about his life but doesn’t end his account of Jesus’ life in the Gospel of Luke, he continues it into the book of Acts and in Acts 1:8 let’s hear these words and see if they don’t sound a LOT like Matthew 28:
Jesus said, “and you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
That should sound a lot like, “Go and make disciples of all nations”.
And right after Luke writes that he records, “Jesus ascends into heaven.”
Friends, I’m not suggesting that those two are the same… in fact I’m suggesting the beauty is that they’re different–that we have two different people recording that in Jesus’ last days here on earth, THAT’S what He was concerned about… that’s where His passions lie… in us producing further disciples in Jesus Christ–allowing God to work through us to bring others to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So that’s why I contend, that if these are indeed Jesus’ last words, the last thing on His mind, this message should be the FIRST thing on our mind when we make decisions as a church.
What I mean by that is when we go to make decisions as a church we should be simply asking ourself, “What will help us fulfill the great commission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28 the best?
And there’s nothing else, no other desire that can possibly compete with just simply answering that question.
Now as we continue in the passage, I’m gonna say a phrase that I committed to never saying back in seminary. I had a preaching professor who told me… he said, “Now look class, I wanna make sure that you give the congregation the FRUIT of your work, not all your work”.
And by that what he meant was, I don’t want you to ever say phrases like, “In the Greek…” .
Now John (interim pastor he replaced)… I think you and I are going to be in trouble here I’m guessing (light laughter).
The professor then said, “In fact class, if I ever end up attending one of your churches either regularly, or just as a one-time visitor, and I hear you say, ‘In the Greek…’ I’m gonna look to the person next to me and say, “Nerd“ (loud laughter).
So we get to do that a little bit… this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m going to say the forbidden phrase and you can be my professor, how about that… OK? “In the Greek” (many in unison, “Nerd” with laughter).
See, there’s a beautiful component of the Greek in this passage; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard Matthew 28 preached without someone referring to the original language BECAUSE in English when you read a paragraph like this we’re left sort of mysteriously trying to discover where the thrust, and emphasis, where the command of the passage lies.
But in the original language it’s very clear. The imperative is very clear to us. And when we look at this passage we find that the emphasis not under the expression “go”, but under the expression “to_make_disciples“.
And that’s why I’m suggesting that every decision we make as a church should come back to whether or not this helps us make disciples.
Ya know, today in the church we have these budgets and different ways of breaking out our ministry; we have mission’s budget, mission’s committee, outreach folks, evangelism folks, and discipleship folks, but we forget that while some of those are helpful, they’re not necessarily Biblical — the division.
You see, when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples”, He was combining most of those terms all in one; I mean you would’ve had to have done evangelism, that is introducing people to Jesus Christ, to do discipleship, that is nurturing their relationship with Jesus Christ.
And therefore the Church ought to be, above all other things doing that work; and constantly asking itself, “What will help us be the best at introducing people to Jesus Christ? … and also nurturing their relationship with Jesus Christ.“
I want you to hear that process that God invites us into. And if you happen to be here, and you’re not a follower of Christ and you’re wondering about that decision, I just want to speak to you for a moment and invite you to hear those words and the process that’s involved there.
A lot of times people hold off on entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ because they don’t feel they have all their ducks in a row.
This expression reminds us, that we’re never gonna.. we don’t either and we’re in the process, and most of us here began by just beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ. This evangelism component and eventually had discipleship in our lives and saw that relationship nurtured.
And we want to invite you, Christ invites us into a relationship with Him regardless of where_we’re_at.
But the other beautiful thing about realizing that the thrust of this passage is not in the “GO“, it’s because the church over the years, has basically abandoned Matthew 28 because of the expression “go”. So when most people read this passage they hear “GO and make disciples of all nations”… and they think to themselves, “that’s a great passage for… missionaries… but that’s not me.. I’m not leaving America anytime soon”. So they turn the page and go on to the next thing in Scripture.
But we find that we can fulfill Matthew 28 and the Great Commission right here in our own Church even if God never calls us overseas… right here in our own communities… that I believe then that the greatest way that you and I as a church can fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28… and this is where we’re going to start getting a little more real to our Kirkmont Presbyterian situation.
The greatest way we can fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28 is to create an atmosphere on Sunday morning that “Unchurched” people want to come to; … to create an atmosphere on Sunday morning that our church people want to invite their unchurched people to.
You see the beauty of that where people get to come, and want to come, and keep coming back; they don’t have one night, or one hour, or one sermon to decide for Jesus… and we hope things turn out well for them.
They get to just keep coming, and they wanna come back because we’ve created the right atmosphere for them to do so. And they get to see and experience the church of Jesus Christ and take time to make a calculated, prayerful decision about whether or not God is leading them into that relationship.
I believe the single greatest way that a church today can fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is to create an atmosphere on Sunday morning that unchurched people want to come to.
Ya know the Church has tried a lot of other options over the years: they’ve tried Friday night revival, they’ve tried Saturday night concerts and all kinds of different things to reach in to the community; but the bottom line is, after all the different attempts, we still come back statistically, that Sunday morning is the best opportunity to invite people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I’m convinced that our churches are NOT fulfilling the Great Commission because they’re filled with people who think that THEIR church service is OK by them, but who would NEVER, or at least hesitate to invite an Unchurched person to come to their own church.
If you called me as a pastor… I mean I would give you permission that after a certain period of time, if you don’t feel welcome, and encouraged to invite Unchurched people to the church, then you should find a church where you can do that. Because it is not an option for you to decide whether or not you will participate in Matthew 28… it’s a Biblical command.
And there are so many people who are OK with their church even LOVE their church; but then if you press them further… and ask them, “Would you ever invite your Unchurched neighbor or co-worker?” … they would say, “no”.
And that’s sad… that’s sad.
Over the years I’ve been amazed at how bad church people are at planning church for Unchurched people. I’ve been amazed at just how bad church people can plan a Sunday morning experience for church people.
Let me give you an analogy… I mean if we wanted to create a loving, caring, safe nursing home environment would we go and ask a bunch of 16 year old skateboarders to draw up the plan for us (laughter).
And if we wanted to create`a really fun, exciting skateboard park for teens would we go to the Nursing Home and ask them for advice on how we might do that… probably wouldn’t be where we’d start.
And as silly as that contrast is, it almost feels that way at times when you talk to church people about what they think should happen or shouldn’t happen on Sunday morning when engaged in the subject of un-churched people.
It seems like the longer we go to church the WORSE we are at creating a Sunday morning experience that un-churched people actually want to attend; and it would be a passion of mine to constantly be evaluating whether we’re doing that.
So at our church currently in Riverside Church, Minnesota.. do you guys know that I’m from Minnesota? … I’ll tell ya the weather attraction here is just.. (loud laugher)… Chick fil-A and the weather (laughter) and a…
But at that church we have these regular conversations, ongoing conversations, constantly evaluating whether Sunday morning is the type of place where people want to invite unchurched people to.
And when we have these conversations, everything is fair game. They’re brainstorming sessions, you can just put it out there, say whatever you want.
And I “thought” that everything was fair game until one night an elder of ours, I would say he’s probably 55 or so. He says, we’d listed a bunch of other things that we should think about, he says, “Well ya know, why don’t we talk about this…” he said, “we offer coffee after church in the Fellowship Hall, but what about the whole idea of being one of those churches where people can get coffee ahead of time and then bring it into the church?”
Let me tell ya I’m glad he brought it up and not me (laughter). I’m convinced there were at least two people in the room who thought that this man was worshiping satan at that moment (laughter).
And we heard some more level-headed answers, people saying, “Well, listen, I’m having a hard time with that because God is Holy and reverent and should be worshipped as such… and everybody agreed with that and so.. they didn’t think that that would help with that atmosphere.
Other people didn’t really care about that… they were just worried , “well what if someone spills on our new carpet… ya know?”. We had that concern.
And there were other people who thought that this elder had a good idea... and we had all this sort of discussion happening and there’s this concern, at the heart of all this is…
If we start to make a church that un-churched people LOVE, will we compromise genuine worship in the process? Isn’t that what some of you all are worried about in that endeavor? If we start to make a church that un-churched people love, will we compromise genuine worship in the process?
And to answer that, I’ll tell you that I was studying for an exam that I have tomorrow. Some of you know that I have to drive up to Findlay, Ohio… and the denomination will examine me to make sure… ASSUMING THAT THE VOTE GOES WELL HERE… (loud laughter)… I’m not going to put myself through that obviously… I’ll just call them and tell them to cancel the appointment…
I’ll go up there and they’ll examine me and one of the documents that’s a really big deal for us in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is the “Westminster Confession of Faith“; it’s a document primarily produced by the Church in England 1643-1649… I mean they spent a long time; and it’s supposed to be a systematic teaching of what the Bible teaches about various topics.
The very first question they ask is this: “What is the chief end of man?”
And if you don’t think about it that sounds like kind of a corny question… that we don’t really talk like that. But if you really think about it you realize the question’s just asking, “What is the purpose in life?” And that’s a question a LOT of people ask… “What is my purpose in life”?
And the answer that it gives is this, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”... to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Well, I’ve always loved that answer, but I have one critique of it… the expression “to glorify God” is a little ambiguous isn’t it? Exactly how should we glorify God? And that’s at the heart of the debate that we’re talking about now.
There are some people who want to glorify God by preserving a certain majestic worship service, and there are others who say, “No, I believe that fulfilling Matthew 28 is the greatest way we glorify God.”
And I do think that there’s an Old Testament and New Testament distinction here.
In 39 books of the Old Testament we see how God dealt with His people… he called them to be separate; he had them build a holy majestic place of worship; and He had his clear dwelling place and man had their clear and appropriate place in relationship to God’s standing.
But we cannot deny that Jesus does something different to that… that Jesus takes down the barrier of sin that is dividing us from God, and the Scripture tells us that when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior our sins are IMMEDIATELY forgiven; that relationship is immediately restored and God’s what begins to dwell inside of us–His Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity immediately begins to dwell inside of us so WE become the new TABERNACLE OF GOD if you will — God dwelling in us.
And so I have absolute awe and respect for God and for His character and for how He ought to be worshipped. But I have to be honest with you, I take.. I take more weight in the understanding that as we enter into the New Testament in Jesus Christ, that there’s a LIBERTY there… as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Which means… if we’re talking about coffee, since that was the example… if it, is in fact, inappropriate to drink coffee in this building in any room, then isn’t it also inappropriate to drink coffee ANY-WHERE because God’s Spirit is dwelling inside of you; and you don’t enter into His presence more in one place or the other. Your whole life is to be a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ.
Now some of you are thinking… well SOME of you are thinking now this guy is a heretic… (LOUD LAUGHTER). Where the other’s of you… hopefully less than 20% of you are thinking that (louder laughter).
But the others of you are thinking, “This guy really likes coffee” (LAUGHTER).. of all the things to establish with the church before he comes here.. he’s .. is there gonna be coffee here (laughter)… but see, that’s the beauty of it; I don’t like coffee at all, I think it’s disgusting (laughter).
But I do know some people who don’t know Jesus who do like coffee. And if you could convince me… and I’m not saying I am convinced… but if you could convince me that coffee would help some of my friends who don’t know Jesus come and hear about Jesus… you can guess where my vote’s gonna be. You can guess where my vote, is_going_to_be.
Really what we’re talking about in all this is CHANGE… the dreaded church word, “change“.
And I would invite you, as we close our time together; I would invite you to consider this Christmas Season, this Advent season that we’re in now, to allow Jesus Christ’s historical events and behavior, His attitude, to create the precedent for our capacity of change.
We’re celebrating the birth of Jesus who was previously where? … at the right hand of the Father in all Glory in all majesty. Do you think it was a little bit of a change to come and be born a human in a manger? But He was so passionate about the great commission… let’s not make the mistake that Jesus was the first missionary. He didn’t just tell other people to do the Great Commission, he had already done it.
He was so passionate about restoring you and I, and our relationship to Him… that’s the type of change HE was willing to endure.
And do you think that sometimes change… it causes us to be uncomfortable… yes it does. But 33 years later, when Jesus was being crucified on the cross for our mistakes… do you think that was a new level of discomfort than He had ever experienced before?
But He was SO passionate about seeing people come to faith in Him… that’s the level of change and discomfort HE was willing to endure.
And I share this message with you, not only because I have a desire to see Kirkmont be a church that keeps these types of things first on its mind when it makes all its decisions, but to let you know that if you do call me here as a pastor, if I become convinced that one decision will allow us to reach people for Jesus Christ over the next, you can be assured of where my vote will be.
Let’s pray together:
Gracious Father, I thank you for these folks, they were kind to me… laughing at jokes that weren’t that funny and just being with me and engaging.
Lord we ultimately thank you for Your Word… that you did not leave us as orphans but have given us the Holy Scripture that we’ve been able to look at together this morning, and we do pray that my words have been honoring to the truth of the Scripture and to Your will for this congregation and to your Glory we give this message over to you.
We desire to not just to be hearers of the Word, but doers of it as well; and so I invite you to convict individuals here in this church as well as me… as to how we might better fulfill this great commission that you have given us, in our lives on a regular basis and as a church as a whole.
And now we lift up to you this decision that’s coming and vote; and the beautiful thing about all this is no one has any agenda other than your will, and so I pray that through all of this Your will for this church and for my life has been made clear; and we trust that it will be accomplished in your Sovereign character.
We ask all of these things in name of One God who has revealed Himself to us in three persons: the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT…
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